Self Care

Want the secret to being a great mom? Get some sleep.

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Let’s think seriously about sleep, new mom sleep to be precise.

When I was pregnant, everyone made it very clear that after the baby was born I would never sleep again. I took this very seriously, so I spent every spare minute of my pregnancy fast asleep. Was it amazing? Yes.

Was all that energy stored and made available to me after my baby was born? Absolutely not.

Of course we’re going to lose sleep when our babies are born. They’re awake to feed, fuss or poop all. the. time. I had personally never known that extent of exhaustion was possible. 

Feeling guilty for sleeping? Look at the facts.

I’ll admit, even with the extra sets of hands we were lucky enough to have, I still felt anxious and guilty about sleeping. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to nap because there was so much to do. It’s not what “good moms” do. 

I like being productive, so it’s hard to put aside some of those expectations and patterns. In the movies we don’t really see new moms sleeping. We see them all in, completely available, enjoying every. damn. minute. So I convinced myself that I should suffer through, fight the urge, and stick it out. I became so exhausted from the guilt and sleeplessness that I completely broke down before the end of the first week.

If you want to be the best mom you can possibly be, you really need your sleep. Here’s why: Sleep deprivation can seriously affect our mood and behavior, particularly when it continues for months upon months, even years. The negative physical, cognitive, emotional, and relational effects that result from too little sleep range from mildly inconvenient to pretty serious. 

So, here’s what I wish someone had told me. 

To help combat your guilt, I’m going to show you how science says you should absolutely skip laundry in favor of a nap the next time you are faced with the dilemma: to sleep or not to sleep?

Let me be clear: Exhaustion really messes your body up

Though it’s true that a big reason you’re not getting as much sleep after giving birth is because of the nugget who came home with you, they’re not the only culprit. 

Your hormones are wreaking havoc on your body and mind making sure your new mom sleep schedule is in tatters.

Right after you have a baby, your estrogen and progesterone levels plummet, and they are partially responsible for regulating the neurotransmitters that control how well you sleep. Which means that even if you manage to squeeze in a few precious minutes, they are likely to be restless. 

And, after just one or two nights of little and interrupted sleep, you are well into sleep deprivation, which is probably when you start to notice the cognitive effects associated with it, such as difficulty with simple problem solving, basic recall, or really registering what someone is saying or what you just read. 

I remember my husband becoming so frustrated that I couldn’t communicate effectively when I needed help with something. Rather than verbalizing my thoughts, I just referred to everything as “this” or “that” and relied on pointing for communication. I couldn’t string together a sentence. It was scary, frustrating, and confusing. 

Which leads me to my next point.

…And your emotions are not spared.

For a variety of reasons, you may be more susceptible to postpartum depression (PPD) after giving birth. The aforementioned hormones play a role, as does your personal and family history with depression, and how much support and resources you have. Many of these factors can feel out of your control.

Guess what other factor plays a role in the development of PPD? Sleep. Actually, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation when it comes to depression and sleep. When you’re depressed, having difficulty falling or staying asleep is a tell-tale sign AND when you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to feel depressed. A real catch-22.

Other common symptoms of PPD are forgetfulness, irritability, and anxiety, which you’re most likely to experience sometime in the first five weeks after you have your baby. Having PPD may also interfere with your ability to fully connect with your baby during these early days.

That last part is particularly heartbreaking for a lot of moms. They want to be present with their baby but just can’t seem to do it, and then end up feeling enormous guilt. But it’s not your fault and you are not alone. Researchers estimate that as many as 37% of new moms experience PPD — and that number could be higher because it’s hard to admit to someone else that you aren’t in maternal bliss. I know I certainly wasn’t.

And while a little extra sleep isn’t a cure-all (many moms need medication or alternative medical approaches to address their various symptoms), it can help a lot. 

Prioritizing Sleep Is Essential to Your Postpartum Recovery

If you’re suffering from PPD or lesser symptoms of sleep deprivation, figuring out how to get more sleep should probably be your number-one priority.

Because of the circular effects of lack of sleep and depression, getting more sleep may help relieve some of your feelings of depression … which may then help you sleep better. 

Not only that, but establishing a system for both you and your partner to get a little more sleep each day could help your relationship, which is quite possibly under strain after your little one arrived. Research shows that marital/relational satisfaction with your partner often declines after childbirth, thanks in large part to lack of sleep. I’ll leave more about that to another post, since I have a lot to say on the topic. 

Pro Tips for Mom Sleep

Ok, but how do you actually squeeze in a few more minutes of shut-eye when you have a newborn?

  1. You know that, “when baby sleeps, you sleep” adage? It turns out, that’s really smart. I know that chores, other kids, and a few non-baby-related moments beckon, but you’re not going to be good for anyone without sleep. So if you get a few minutes to yourself, nap like it’s your job.
  2. Even if you decide to just lie down in the dark, it’s considered restful. Do deep breathing exercises to relieve stress and signal your brain that it’s time to slow down and rest. 
  3. Talk about your mom sleep habits with your partner, family, and doctor just like you do about your baby’s sleep patterns. Ask your partner to hold you accountable to naps and eating. When they see you folding the laundry instead of taking your nap, or endlessly scrolling social media instead of eating your lunch, ask for a gentle reminder that it’s time to take care of you.
  4. Schedule sleep. If your baby has a relatively predictable pattern, schedule in your sleep around theirs and stick to it as best you can. You’ll need the support of the others living in your house to make this happen, so be sure to get everyone on board. A new mom sleep schedule can make a huge difference in those first months.
  5. If you can’t nap, do something similarly restorative. Try to take a daily walk with your baby each day to help regulate your circadian rhythms. But I can almost guarantee that if you practice napping, you will see benefits very quickly. 

And remember, when it comes to sleep, it will get better. There will come a day when you sleep again. But until then, nap. Nap like it’s your job, because, well, it kind of is.

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